Back in April, I opened this Foods of War series with a recipe and review of hardtack, an ancient ration that gained infamy among Union troops during the American Civil War. The ingredients were simple: wheat flour, water, and maybe some salt, mixed into a dense dough, rolled and cut into biscuit sized squares, and baked to tooth-chipping hardness.
Understanding what Union forces ate prompts the obvious question of what southern forces consumed. Union blockades meant that southern troops had limited access to battlefield staples of the period, most notably wheat flour and coffee (the Union, conversely, had limited supply of the third pillar of war consumables: tobacco). For the latter, southern soldiers would make do with chicory or peanuts to stretch their coffee supply (a flavor many in New Orleans still enjoy today). For the former, rations of cornmeal were issued. While wheat and rice were grown in the mountain and coastal south, respectively, corn was the most widely available staple grain. In addition to cornmeal, troops were rationed salt pork or bacon, along with some coffee (or coffee substitutes), salt, and perhaps some peas or beans.
There were many variants on how these simple cornmeal and bacon rations were prepared. Some soldiers would pool their rations and have one man designated as a cook. Under this scheme, the cornmeal and bacon grease could be cooked into a large skillet sized cake, known as corn pone, which might loosely resemble a modern cornbread. When the bread began to go bad, it was crumbled into a soup or stew, known as a cush, which (generously) tasted a bit like porky polenta. Another variant, called sloosh, has been described by Civil War historian Shelby Foote as such: